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Alphonsus O' Neill

  • AR 3
  • Person
  • 11-10-1830 - 06-10-1899

Scarcely ever in the History of the Anglo-Hibernian Province has an event had to be chronicled which called forth such sentiments of universal regret as the death of Father Alphonsus O'Neill. Though some days have passed since he was laid to rest, it yet seems hardly possible to realize that he is no longer with us. So conspicuous and so prominent was his personality in the Province for over forty years, so intimately was he identified with every good work and undertaking of the Congregation during those years, and so successful in carrying them to a happy issue, that to be all at once bereft of his wise counsel, his eloquent voice, and his strong influence, amounts to little less than a calamity. We can console ourselves however with the reflection that our loss is his gain.

 Fr. Alphonsus was born in Stewartstown, Co. Tyrone, on the 11th of October 1830. His early life was spent in commercial pursuits, but never to the exclusion of works of charity and benevolence, in the fulfilment of which he recognised the Christian precept: "Do good, one to another". In those early days he associated himself with the S. Vincent de Paul Society in Belfast, and though years have elapsed since then there are still living some who can testify to the fidelity and devotedness with which he served God in the person of his poor.

It cannot therefore be a matter of surprise that such a start in life would eventually lead to the cloister, and consequently, his fellow-workers in the cause of charity, though they expressed their regret, yet could not withhold their approbation, when in the June of 1852, he made known to them that he had decided on becoming a Passionist. In that year he went to our Novitiate in Broadway, and after his profession, which he made on 13th July 1853, he was sent to Rome to begin his studies for the priesthood. He remained in Rome over four years, and had the happiness of being raised to the priesthood towards the end of 1856 by a Passionist Bishop, Mgr. Joseph Malajoni, who had been for a number of years Bishop in Bulgaria, but who at this time was living retired in our Retreat of Monte Argentaro.

Shortly after his return to these countries, Fr. Alphonsus was appointed Vice Master of novices, but the evidences he gave of successful missionary work, left him very little time to fulfil his duties as Vice Master. From this time till the close of his earthly career, it might be said that the history of his life was identical with the history of the Province. He threw himself heart and soul into every good work which had for its object the wellbeing of the Congregation, and in doing so he knew no fatigue, no personal inconvenience: enough for him that souls were longing for the bread of life, or that their surroundings were such as to place in jeopardy their eternal welfare. It may be truly said that his missionary career was a most successful one. His style was marked with great earnestness and sincerity. He frequently took the part of principal preacher on Missions, but the part in which he was most at home was the Meditations on the Passion of our Lord. The moving and winning words in which he told the sufferings of his Divine Master never failed to draw souls to a greater love of the Crucified, and to a more lively compassion with Him in his sorrows. The Passion was his favourite subject - indeed it might be said to be the theme of his life's preaching.

Though he was frequently employed in preaching charity sermons, whilst he never failed to address himself directly to the cause which he was called upon to advocate, invariably did he embody in his discourse some reference which showed the character of the Passionist.

 During his life he filled with care and diligence every office of trust in the Province. He was successively Rector of St. Joseph's, Highgate, S. Paul's, Dublin and S. Ann's, Sutton, and in the Chapter of 1878, he was chosen Provincial, the duties of which he discharged till ‘81. Subsequently when the higher Superiors accepted a new foundation in the far distant Australia, he was appointed Superior of the little band of missionaries who volunteered to preach the Passion under the Southern Cross. For six years he laboured with his usual zeal and energy in those colonies, giving Missions and Retreats and otherwise attending to the various duties with which he was entrusted. After his return to Ireland, he took up his residence in Mt. Argus, where notwithstanding the inroad that years of unbroken labour had made on his constitution, he shared with his younger brethren the several duties peculiar to the Retreat. Indeed it was little more than a week before his lamented death when he occupied the pulpit in St. Paul's, and though it could easily be seen that he was in failing health, there was also evidence that much of the old fire of by-gone days still lived within him.

Apart from his work for the Congregation, of which he was a faithful member, his time and talents were always at the disposal of anyone outside the order who required his service. This was particularly remarkable in the interest which he took in the Sisters of the Most Holy Cross and Passion. They began life as Sisters of the Holy Family, whose object was to afford instruction and shelter to homeless girls in the large manufacturing towns in England. Later on they took the name of Sisters of the Cross and Passion. Fr. Alphonsus arranged their Rule, got first a pro tem. approval from Rome, and eventually got the Holy See to sanction them in perpetuum.

His last illness was little more than a few hours. A few days before the end came he accompanied an invalid to the North and seemed even then to be in his ordinary good health. After his return to Dublin, on Wednesday the 4th, he complained of weakness and overwork, and on the morning of the 5th, he was attacked with violent haemorrhage. The doctor was called in immediately and at once pronounced his case serious. There were frequent returns of the haemorrhage during the day, and after receiving all the last rites of the church, being perfectly conscious to the end, he calmly slept away at two o'clock on the morning of the sixth of October.

The funeral obsequies took place on Monday the 9th in the presence of a large gathering of clergy and laity, after which the remains were consigned to their last resting place in the little cemetery attached to the Retreat.

It seemed providential that notwithstanding his sojourn in many lands, his mortal remains should repose in the Mount Argus he loved so well and served so long. Green as the grassy sward which each succeeding Spring will renew on his quiet grave be the remembrance of his many virtues and his bright example in the hearts of those who knew and loved him. R.I.P.

Fr. ALPHONSUS of the Blessed Virgin Mary (O'Neill) 6th October, 1899.

 The ‘Irish News' (Belfast) on the 20th May 1960 carried an article: "TWO DISTINGUISHED PASSIONISTS OF YESTER-YEAR", the story of two brothers from Co. Tyrone who became Passionists: Frs. DOMINIC and ALPHONSUS O'Neill.

They were the sons of a mixed marriage. When their son Edward was born, the mother met the priest with a torrent of abuse and threats of violence, so the child was baptised secretly. That was Fr. Dominic. (Ironically, he was to be clothed a Passionist on July 12th 1852, 22 years later). The Dad compromised, and it was agreed sons would be baptised Catholics, the daughters Protestants. There was only one daughter Mary Ann. She refused to go to church with her mother, and went off to Mass with her brothers. Later, she was to become a Sister of Mercy, in Birmingham, as Sister Alphonsus of the Passion.

The early years were stirring ones. Daniel O'Connell won a lawsuit preventing his fellow Catholics from being evicted from a quarry, where the church in which the young O'Neills were altar boys was situated in Stewartstown.

It was also the period when the Oxford Movement was having its effects on the Hon. George Spencer and the Hon. Charles Pakenham among many others. The future Fr. Alphonsus was to meet up with both in Broadway. A fellow novice was Cfr. (later Brother) LAWRENCE Carr, who later would be the 1st Passionist Brother in Australia, while Alphonsus was Superior of the founding and pioneer party of CPs.

When he said he wanted to be a priest, his mother told a friend that it was the greatest cross of her life: his first Mass was offered for, and brought about, the conversion of his mother.

One page cannot cover his work as a Passionist. He was known as ‘the Silver-tongued Orator' (another Chrysologus!). He did his studies in John and Paul's, was ordained at Monte Argentaro by a Passionist Bishop, Mgr. Mulajoni.

Fr. Alphonsus was later to be a Vice-Master of novices, a Rector, a Consultor, a Provincial, ... and a great Missioner. He was the Founder of the present Australian Province, in that he led the first band of priests and a brother from St. Joseph's Province there; he returned later to the home Province. So (to quote the I.N. article) ‘afar from the townland of St. Patrick's Bell this great Passionist of yesteryear sleeps his last sleep in the peaceful cemetery beside Mount Argus'.

Sources: Fr. Salvian Nardocci's ‘Register'
Fr. Salvian Nardocci's ‘Annals' Vol. 1, pp. 161, 287,361.
‘Irish News' (Belfast) 1960.05.20 (In our archives).

Sebastian Keens

  • AR 5
  • Person
  • 28-09-1831 - 28-9-1891

Sebastian Keens C.P. Obituary by Fr. Dominic O'Neill C.P. 1891

The Province of St. Joseph has sustained a severe loss by the death of the Rev. Fattier Sebastian of the Blessed Sacrament, This zealous son of St Paul of the Cross, known in the world as Sebastian Keener lived 41 years in the Congregation and died on the anniversary of his birth on the 28th of September (1891) having been bom on the same date 1831.

The place of his birth was London and his parents were pious Catholics, his father having been converted from Protestantism in early youth. He entered the Congregation in 1849 and was the last novice accepted by the V. Rev. Fr. Dominic of the Mother of God. Having made his profession on the 14th February I850, tie years of his studies were marked by his love of the Holy Observance, and when in due time he was promoted to the Holy Order of the Priesthood, he was chosen Vice Master of Novices.

In 1858 he was sent by his superiors to St. Paul's Retreat, Mount Argus, Dublin, anc to this Retreat he remained attached until the time of his death, except from 1869 until 1872 during which interval he was Rector of St Joseph's Retreat Highgate, London.

It was thus at Mount Argus that the greater part of his Priestly life was spent, and here it was that he displayed that wonderful zeal for God's glory which so distinguished him. During the 30 years that he was connected with Mount Argus he was truly indefatigable in his labours. Frequently engaged on Missions in Ireland, England and Scotland his preaching drew thousands of poor sinners to the Sacraments, and every mission given by him was blessed by God with marvellous results. Without having much of the gift of eloquence property so called he spoke from the heart in his sermons and seldom failed to touch the hearts of his audience. In the duties of the confessional he laboured with unwearied assiduity, and never I seemed to rest while sinners were to be attended to in the Sacred Tribunal.

This is true of him not only on missions but i t was his daily life in the Retreat of Saint Paul.

He had a rare gift of attracting souls from the vanities of the world and placing them in the secure sanctuary of the Religious State, One of the greatest services he rendered to our Province was the number of pious and talented subjects who through his means entered the Congregation. Of these two were made Provincials, several Rectors and some of our most valued missioners were attracted to our institute under his direction. With the same zeal he led a great number of his female penitents to enter the Religious State, and it would be impossible to form an idea of the numbers who are now in convents in both hemispheres. The Sisters of the Passion gratefully acknowledge that their numerous convents in England and Ireland are filled with holy and zealous Religious who under God owe their vocation to his burning zeal.

Besides this wonderful life of zeal for God's glory and the sanctification of souls in the intervals between his missionary and spiritual labours he was for 30 years the zealous questor for the temporal wants of the community. To his exertions we are principally indebted for the spacious Retreat of St. Paul Mount Argus and its universally admired church. The words of the Psalmist can with truth be applied to him, "I have loved, O Lord, the zeal of Thy house and the place where Thy Glory dwelleth."
In his religious life he was remarkable for childlike simplicity of character. His obedience to his superiors was prompt and cheerful. His charity for his brethren was very great especially when any of the community were sick he would seek to procure for them whatever would alleviate their sufferings or tend to their comfort and he always gave great edification by speaking in praise of his brethren in the presence of seculars, thus-increasing the respect of all for his Mother the Congregation.

He was unremitting in his exertions to promote devotion to our Lord's Sacred
Passion and this not only in sermons and in the confessional and through the Confraternity of the Passion attached to our church, but he established the Confraternity on missions wherever he could and invested great numbers with the Black Scapular of the Passion in all parts. Great also was his devotion to the Dolours of the Blessed Virgin and to the Divine Sacrament of the Attar. He wrote and published several volumes on our Lady's Dolours, The Manual of a Happy Death, Our Lord's Passion, The Blessed Sacrament, and Saint Michael which have passed through several editions. In this wa y did his zeal inspire him to labour for souls where his voice could not reach and took means that even after death he should yet speak to the hearts of many of God and the salvation of their souls.

His life of unremitting toil could but tell on his naturally strong constitution. For some time past his brethren could observe a great change in him and on Sunday morning the 30th August while in the confessional as was his custom at that time he felt suddenly unwell. He passed out to prepare to offer the Holy Sacrifice and while thus engaged he had suddenly a stroke of apoplexy. The medical attendant was soon with him. and for some time he seemed'daily to improve having recovered the use of his right hand and side which were paralyzed. But on the 21st September he received a second stroke which paralyzed his left side and rendered him completely unconscious. In this state he remained with slight intervals of consciousness until the morning of the 28th September his 60th birthday when he calmly breathed his last fortified by the Sacraments of Holy Church. The day of his death was the eve of the feast of Si Michael to whom he had a special devotion. The colossal statue of St. Michael which now adorns the front of St. Paul's Church is due'to his exertions.

His obsequies were attended by about 80 priests secular and regular. The Most Rev. Dr. Woodlock, Bishop of Ardagh, presided at the Office, and the Requiem Mass was sung by the V. Rev. Fr. Gregory, Provincial of the Anglo-Hibernian Province. The vast numbers of the laity whom the spacious church could not contain attested to the esteem and respect in which tile good Father was held by the people in whose midst he had laboured so long and so faithfully.

We have no doubt that God has prepared as the reward of his laborious life a bright crown of eternal glory, but as he had to pass before the Judgement Seat of Him Who has declared "Ego justifies judicabo* I beg of your Reverence to have the usual suffrages offered for the repose of his soul.
Signed "Dominic of the Imm. Heart of Mary, Rector"/